People and prosperity

Changing lives in Kenya

21-year old Caren Nelima Odanga explains what inspired her to help girls and women in her community

Caren founded Sisari Women Initiative (SWI) in 2013 to support and educate women  in rural Kenya.  We asked what inspired her work, which has seen her become one of  the first ever Queen’s Young Leaders.

Why did you set up SWI?

I wanted to provide a platform for young women in rural communities in western Kenya, coming up with sustainable solutions to the enormous challenges they face. SWI gives vulnerable girls and young women in rural communities the tools to better themselves and their families.

Caren OdangaWe provide skills development, education for adolescent girls, mentoring, entrepreneurship training, and help to find jobs, as well as items such as re-usable sanitary towels and contraceptives.

We also campaign against retrogressing Kenyan traditional practices such as wife inheritance, wife beating and female genital mutilation, and organise sports activities as a means of educating communities. Through SWI, my aim is to create a generation that respects, protects and promotes the rights of women.

What compelled you to lead?

My harsh childhood experiences and the support I received from community-based organisations such as Yaya Education Trust. I was born and raised in a highly patriarchal society characterised by high illiteracy among women, extreme poverty, violence against women, teenage pregnancies, forced teenage marriages, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, interethnic clashes, poor healthcare, and a total disregard of women’s rights.

Having grown up witnessing all forms of violence against women, my greatest desire was to come up with an initiative that would catalyse a transformation in the society. I wanted to see a balanced world based on the principles of mutual respect, collaboration, and civic participation – and therefore to reverse the old paradigm predicated on hierarchy, violence, rights violation and the subordination of women and girls. Through SWI, my ambitions are being met, albeit step by step.

Is there one individual who inspired you?

The one person who inspired me the most was my mother, Margaret Odanga. Despite being a single mother without a regular source of income and a victim of violence, she worked hard to ensure that I became the person I am today. She is not only my mother, but also my mentor and my best friend.

What are some of the positives to come out of SWI?

So far, we have reached and transformed the lives of around 1,500 girls directly, and around 8,000 community members indirectly. We have seen significant reduction in teenage marriages, improved knowledge about the rights of girls and women, increased enrollment and retention of girls in schools, improved access to reproductive health services, reduced violence against women, reduced poverty levels among young mothers, a greater number of young men supporting women’s empowerment initiatives, and increased numbers of young women taking part in sporting ventures.

What does being a Queen’s Young Leader mean to you?

Being a Queen’s Young Leader has propelled me into the limelight, both locally and internationally. I  am now considered an influencial person within my community and in Kenya at large, and am seen as a role model to many other girls among marginalised communities.

Through the award’s programme, I am being exposed to similar initiatives around the world. I am able to share my experiences with others and pick up best practice for possible replication in Kenya. The mentoring and skills development offered through the Queen’s Young Leaders is one of a kind. The project management, leadership, communication, rights advocacy and campaigning skills will help me grow my organisation and create more young leaders. It will enable me to bring the change I desire in my community and across Kenya.

What is your vision for SWI and beyond?

I have devoted my life to the advancement of girls’ and women’s rights. The vision I have for SWI is to remain the voice of the voiceless, with particular focus on vulnerable women, children, and people with disabilities.

What tips would you give to young people who aspire to lead?

  1. Be ready to learn from others
  2. Be patient and humble
  3. Understand the needs and nature of the people you aspire to lead
  4. Provide solutions to challenges
  5. Be willing to work with others (team work)
  6. Be committed to the cause no matter what

 

Want to get in contact with Caren? Email her at nelima.caren@yahoo.com